Two unlikely heroes emerge

Two unlikely heroes emerged from Tyrone’s 16-7 win in last night’s annual Backyard Brawl against Bellwood-Antis, though for vastly different reasons.

Both senior Cory Lehman and junior Keegan Raabe made the kind of plays with lasting imagery one might expect from the storied Brawl series.

For Lehman, his fourth-quarter sacked, followed up later with a 44-yard reception to set up a game-clinching field goal, firmly solidify him as a Backyard Brawl gamer. When the Eagles needed momentum, he put the pedal to the floor.

Raabe, on the other hand, was cool as a cucumber in splitting the uprights with a 20-yard field goal to seal the win late in the game.

But while the pair created memories and stories that will be good around the dinner table for decades to come, their shining moments could not have been more unanticipated. Raabe had never played a varsity football game, much less attempted a kick of the magnitude of his fourth-quarter three-pointer, before last night.


And as for Lehman, well, the three-year letter-winner admitted afterwards he was a little lost on both of his big plays.

“No lie, I heard that it was a blitz late,” he said of his game-changing sack. “I heard ‘Seattle,’ and I just busted off. I didn’t know if (B-A quarterback Shawn Wolfe) handed the ball off or not. I saw the ball poke up, and he didn’t see me coming. I didn’t know the ball came out after it, either, until after, and then I just went crazy.”

The fumble was recovered by Braeden Nevling-Ray, and it led directly to the go-ahead touchdown.

Later, when Tyrone had a chance to drain the clock and play it safe with time winding down, Lehman broke free on a 44-yard reception that set up Raabe’s improbable field goal.

On that play, too, Lehman said he was a little unclear of just what his responsibility was until the last second.

“Again, I’m not going to lie, I missed the play,” he said with a smile. “It was a play to the opposite side. I’m pretty sure I had the post. I just ran it down the seam because I was confused and it was there.”

So did he run the right route, or was this simply the luck of the Brawl?

“I knew that I was doing it right,” he said.

Those are the kinds of dramatic plays this series, which can be traced back as far as 1897 unofficially, are built upon, and in the heat of the moment, in front of 5,000 screaming spectators, it’s not unusual for a player to have to make something happen on the fly.

For a player with the pedigree of Lehman, who already has two varsity letters on the gridiron, it’s a lot easier to take that lemon and make some lemonade.

Raabe is a different story. When he kicked an extra-point in the first quarter after a game-tying touchdown run by Zac Albright made it 7-6, it was the first time he ever stepped on a varsity football field, making his late field goal extra-special.

In a game the magnitude of the Brawl, it elevated him to the status of other unlikely heroes along the lines of the Yankees Aaron Boone, whose unforeseen grittiness against all odds earn them a special middle name. So Raabe may well be remembered henceforth as Keagan Freaking Raabe.

“I was just focusing on hitting the ball right,” said Raabe. “I was prepared, I was calm. I was just thankful that my hold got down, and the snap was good.”

That’s no small bit of thanks. One reason Raabe’s kick was so big was because after Tyrone’s go-ahead score a bad snap led to a mistimed kick that went left, and Tyrone led just 13-7.

Tyrone coach Jason Wilson said he talked to Raabe before the game about not allowing the hoopla surrounding the region’s biggest rivalry game to affect his concentration.

“Pregame, I told him it’s just like practice,” Wilson said. “I told him don’t worry about the crowd, don’t worry about the other guys coming at you. Just focus on the ball and getting your kick and the timing down, he did an excellent job. He’s a multi-sport athlete. So he’s been in these situations. He’s been in games. He knows the atmosphere. He knows the feeling. I think he just looked really relaxed back there.”

Raabe may have been in other games, but there’s nothing quite like a Backyard Brawl game, so when Raabe got the chance to put his stamp on one, he embraced it.

“I don’t know how big of a role I felt playing in it until that last kick,” he said. “Everyone was rushing at me. I was feeling it. Everyone was pumped up, and it felt good.”

With Tyrone bringing the Backyard Brawl trophy back to their school after losing it for a season, they were certainly moments Raabe and Lehman will remember forever.


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